Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Information Literacy: A 21st Century Skill For The Knowledge Economy

How can I help my students prepare for careers in the new "knowledge economy"? This is one question that has guided me in the development of a course I am teaching this summer,  Global Social Change.

What is the "knowledge-based economy" and what skills do my students need in order to be successful in this new economy?

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), “The knowledge based economy” is an expression coined to describe trends in advanced economies towards greater dependence on knowledge, information and high skill levels, and the increasing need for ready access to all of these by the business and public sectors"(OECD 2005:18). 

Making informed decisions -- at work, in business, at home or in the voting booth -- requires knowledge, which is dependent on accurate information. To know how to locate, analyze, critically evaluate, interpret, communicate and use information is to be information literate. 

CEOs and business leaders have recognized the need for information literacy in our knowledge-based economy. In 1999, Anthony Comper, president of the Bank of Montreal, told the graduating class of the University of Toronto

  “Whatever else you bring to the 21st century workplace, however great your technical skills and however attractive your attitude and however deep your commitment to excellence, the bottom line is that to be successful, you need to acquire a high level of information literacy. What we need in the knowledge industries are people who know how to absorb and analyze and integrate and create and effectively convey information and who know how to use information to bring real value to everything they undertake”(American Library Association).

 Information literacy is integrated into the assignments for my course, which include weekly discussion forums, a global research journal and a research log. Through research tutorials and discussions with librarian, Leslin Charles, the students have been honing their research, writing and citation skills. After the initial tutorials and discussion with the librarian, students posted their comments about the process of conducting research for their first journal entries.

  "...World Geography & Culture Online has a “Timeline” that gives you a precise overview and the complete history of the country. As per the librarian, it explains “why things are happening today” (Word Geography & Culture Online). I wish we had such databases when I was in elementary or even high school. It would have made my life much easier." 

 "Since I have a general knowledge of how to use some of the databases within the library, I thought I'd be able to skip the tutorials and just get started. However, I was having a hard time finding anything and navigating through the pages, so I watched the tutorials and then it took me less than a minute to find what I needed! This showed me that sometimes tutorials aren't pointless, because some are usually so long you don't want to even watch them, but these were short, simple and straight to the point!" 

 "I appreciated the video about the different ways to search for things online with Google and the different shortcuts that can help your search. The videos were very helpful and informative. Most of the time many of us use Google the wrong way and don’t realize it." 

 "I found the librarian's tutorial videos to be very informative. I have used the databases in the past for other classes, but have never used Country Watch or World Geography and Culture Online, so watching those tutorials were very helpful. Both Country Watch and World Geography and Culture Online are databases with information on countries, and although Country Watch looked very easy to use and navigate, I personally prefer the World Geography and Culture Online database because of its layout and features (like the timeline)." 

 "I am very familiar with the Berkeley College Online Library and how to navigate through the specific databases, but I have never used Country Watch or World Geography & Culture Online, so I'm very thankful that the librarian was kind enough to post tutorials on how to navigate within each of them. I found both tutorials to be extremely helpful in finding the specific information I was searching for. Usually when you start using a new online database it takes some time to get used to and sometimes they are hard to navigate unless you find some sort of directions on how to use them.  After watching all the helpful tutorials provided by the Librarian, I had no trouble at all searching for the information about Nicaragua and writing my journal." 

 "In a lot of previous research I have done, something I could have utilized was comparing the data I had to similar data from other countries. This database is truly incredible. So much research about other countries of the world is right at your fingertips. Of course, I used it right away and learned that there are only 1% of descendants from African immigrants in Portugal. One of my favorite cousins falls in that small percentage." 

It is clear to me that students are motivated to learn, but feel overwhelmed by "information overload". Integrating information literacy into the curriculum can help students learn how to negotiate the expanding volume of information and use it effectively in all areas of their lives.

 "Advocate for IL." Association for College and Research Libraries. American Library Association, n.d. Web. 13 Aug 2012.

 OECD (2005) The Measurement of Scientific and Technological Activities: Guidelines for Collecting and Interpreting Innovation Data: Oslo Manual, Third Edition” prepared by the Working Party of National Experts on Scientific and Technology Indicators, OECD, Paris.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Greetings from the Montclair Farmers' Market!

My favorite weekly ritual is shopping at the Montclair Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings from June through October.  Located at the Walnut St. train station in Montclair, the market offers New Jersey’s freshest and finest fruits and vegetables, cave-aged cheeses, eggs, bread, meats, fish, honey, wine and more.  

Buying locally-produced food is not only good for the local economy, but it’s also good for the planet.   Here is an example.  My local grocery store sells cherry tomatoes grown in Mexico.  Think about the costs – economic and environmental – of transporting those tomatoes from Mexico to New Jersey.  Yet, this is done every day.  Here's another example.  Fish caught off the coast of Norway are shipped to China where workers clean and filet them.  Then, they are sent back to Norway and sold in the store.  Think for a moment how much carbon dioxide is emitted while transporting those fish thousands of miles per trip.

I've wondered how many "food miles" my groceries have traveled?  After a quick search, I found a "food miles calculator" on Organic Linker, The Organic and Eco Directory.  After entering the food type, your location (country) and the country where the food was grown, this tool calculates the food miles and the CO2 emissions.  Those Mexican tomatoes from the grocery store traveled approximately 1886 miles and released 679 kilograms of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  By contrast, local tomatoes grown and purchased in Montclair, NJ would travel 0 food miles and release zero CO2.  Even if the Jersey tomatoes were grown and transported from a farm 10 miles from Montclair, the carbon footprint would be considerably less than from those Mexican tomatoes.

The food miles calculator is not a scientific measure, as it does not consider many other factors such as the environmental cost of growing the food (pesticides, water, etc), harvesting, packaging, etc.  However, it is a great learning tool to show students the impact of our food purchases on carbon dioxide emissions, one contributor to global climate change and environmental damage.

A similar interactive lets you calculate the environmental cost in food miles for fruit purchased in the UK.  The challenge is to select fruits that would make a fruit salad with the lowest carbon footprint, which you can do  with this tool.

For the five months -- June through October --  New Jersey farmers' markets are open, it makes sense to purchase produce locally, thus reducing our food miles and carbon footprint.  Buying local is just more sustainable -- for the local economy and for the planet!

This link will help you find a NJ farmers' market in your area:  http://www.state.nj.us/jerseyfresh/index.html

Monday, July 2, 2012

Millennials & Information Literacy

The summer quarter begins this week, and the online course I’m teaching – SOC 415 Global Social Change --  is on the information literacy curriculum map.   With the help of our college library, I have been developing a student research project to meet the information literacy outcomes for this course:

Students will keep a record of activities related to the process of information seeking, evaluating, and communication in order to reflect on past successes, failures, and alternative research strategies.

Information Literacy is “the set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyze, and use information” (“Association of College & Research Libraries”).  One of the primary goals of information literacy is to help students learn critical thinking and research skills, for both their college years and for lifelong learning.

This is particularly important for the millennial generation.  While millennials tend to be “tech savvy”, research shows that “many students may have only limited knowledge about how to effectively evaluate online resources and use them appropriately” (Windham).

During the next eleven weeks students will research and write about global issues -- poverty, human rights, gender issues, education, population growth, health, etc. -- in their Global Research Journals.     Leslin Charles of the Berkeley College library will guide the students through researching global problems using library databases, journal articles, ebooks and websites.  During the research process, students will keep a research log where they will record their research activities, evaluate the quality and reliability of the information they find and reflect on the progress they have made with research strategies.   

"Introduction to Information Literacy." Association of College & Research Libraries. American Library Association, n.d. Web. 1 Jul 2012. http://www.ala.org/acrl/issues/infolit/overview/intro/

Windham, Carrie. "Getting Past Google: Perspectives on Information Literacy From The Millennial Mind." Educause Learning Initiative. Educause, 2006. Web. 1 Jul 2012.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Engaging Students In The "Online Course Resource"

Students in my online course SOC 415 Global Social Change are actively engaged within our new online course resource.   This is our first quarter using the resource.

So, what is an online course resource?  This is not a "textbook".  This is not an e-book.  Instead, it is an interactive platform containing not just a book, but features that allow instructor and students to bookmark pages, highlight passages, post sticky notes and annotations associated with passages, and most important --- post comments, questions and answers to the instructor and classmates.   Think back to those days in college when you used a yellow highlighter, wrote notes in margins and dog-eared pages.   However, you had to wait until the next class to ask the professor to clarify or explain a difficult concept.  Now, students can post a sticky note next to a page with a question or comment to the professor.  And, this starts a conversation about the content of the readings.

So, what about the book, you might be wondering.  Well, Courseload uploads a PDF file of a textbook from the publisher, but with all of the above interactive features as well.  In my course we are using Scott Sernau's Global Problems:  The Search for Equity, Peace and Sustainability 2nd edition, Pearson Publishing 2009.

So far, the students and I are getting comfortable with this new resource.  Yes, there is a learning curve, but our instructional design department has provided students and instructors with excellent training and the HelpDesk provides round-the-clock support.   So far, students are using the resource and starting to interact with me and their classmates.

Just because the online resource exists does not mean students will automatically embrace it and use it.   First, the instructor must embrace it and use it..... and more.   

So, how can we get the students to engage and interact within the online course resource?  This requires encouragement and creativity from the instructor.  One way is to give an assignment that requires students to post a note in the course resource and respond to a classmate.

This week my students are completing a PBS online interactive about the global coffee trade, "Your Coffee Dollar"  I posted a link to the interactive within this week's reading in the course resource, http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/guatemala.mexico/coffee1.html.   Students are posting the results of their exercise and a conversation has started about the complicated global trading system of coffee -- the second most valuable commodity (after oil) now traded in the world.     This conversation will carry over to this week's discussion forum where we will make connections with economic globalization, trade and other important course concepts.

Many research studies have shown that interaction -- with classmates and the professor -- is one of the major factors that predicts learning success.   I plan to ask my colleagues to share some tips for getting students engaged in this new interactive online course resource and will post these on my blog soon.